There was a lot of talk about how handsome Bradley Cooper is on Thursday night at the Beverly Hilton, where the director and star of “A Star Is Born” became the 32nd recipient of the American Cinematheque Award at a black-tie fundraising dinner and ceremony.
And there was a lot of talk about how hard-working he is and how talented he is, lots of the kind of plaudits that are the currency of the realm at Hollywood awards shows.
But something felt different about the tribute to Cooper. “Most of us have been to nights like this many times before,” actor Sean Penn said when he presented the award to Cooper after a couple of hours of speeches and film clips. “But we’ve never been at one where so many generous and moving things have been said with such extemporaneous spirit.”
And he was right. The Cinematheque’s tribute to Cooper felt like the love fest to end all love fests, with a string of friends and colleagues — among them Jennifer Garner, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Patricia Clarkson, Vince Vaughan, David O. Russell, Sam Elliott and Lady Gaga — declaring undying affection for the three-time Oscar nominee who is currently riding high with the success of his new version of “A Star Is Born.”
“It’s beyond overwhelming to feel the love I had showered on me tonight,” Cooper said when he took the stage at the end of the night. He was clearly touched and reduced to tears several times during the course of the ceremony.
And just as surprising as the fact that Cooper took a thrice-told story and turned it into an Oscar front runner was the realization that despite all that love being flung around the Beverly Hilton ballroom, things never quite got maudlin or corny.
(Well, maybe just a little when Lady Gaga quoted her “Star Is Born” song “I’ll Never Love Again” and said, “I’ll never love again a director the way I loved you, Bradley Cooper — truly, a director star was born.” But by that point, everybody in the room was ready to go with it.)
On a night when Dolby Laboratories’ Doug Darrow also accepted the Cinematheque’s fourth annual Sid Grauman Award, which is presented to a person or company who has made an impact of the exhibition of motion pictures, the Cooper tribute was a more-or-less chronological trip through his career.
It started with Jennifer Garner, who introduced a clip package devoted to what she said was “the finest work of Bradley’s career: the TV years.” The clips from “Alias,” “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” “Sex and the City” and “Kitchen Confidential” and his Speedo-clad appearance in “Nip and Tuck” argued otherwise.
Vince Vaughan made fun of the brightly colored workout clothes Cooper wore when he wasn’t working on “Wedding Crashers” (“he was like a child dressed by [his] parents to not get hit by a car when he goes outside”) but then cut the jokes, got downright serious and called Cooper a genius.
Ed Helms and Zach Galifiakanis followed the same pattern: They made plenty of jokes (“When we were making ‘Hangover 3,’ all Bradley wanted to talk about was what mobile plan was best to phone in his performance,” said Galifiakanis) but then showered Cooper with praise, especially when Galifiakanis talked about he and Cooper bonded over how much they loved their parents.
Brian Klugman, who has been friends with Cooper since they were 10, answered one burning question: “In case you were wondering, he was always handsome. He could come over when he was 11, and my grandmother would say, ‘He’s so good-looking!’”
But then he told a story about how in the sixth grade, Cooper won an award that was basically “the best person in the school award,” and then went to a dance and immediately went up to the girl that all the boys had been making fun of and asked her to dance. At the end of the story, Cooper wiped his eyes and lowered his head.
David O. Russell, who directed Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle” and “Joy,” summed the actor up by saying, “It is his heart that makes something unforgettable, that makes something alive, that makes something human … He is the greatest collaborator an artist could ask for.”
After brief tributes from former U.S. Marine Jacob Schick, who appeared in “American Sniper,” and Taya Kyle, wife of the late soldier played by Cooper in that film, Patricia Clarkson took things in a different direction.
Clarkson told of appearing with Cooper in a stage production of “The Elephant Man,” where she had to perform a nude scene. “He cast me in that role, and I am not an ingénue,” she said. “I am an ingen-not-so-f—ing-new … Every night in the wings I was frightened, but every night when we did that scene, he made it so that it was simply Mrs. Kendal and John Merrick alone in a room.
“Bradley, it was the honor of my life to stand beside you on stage,” she said. When she finished, Cooper once again lowered his head and wiped away tears.
And he cried again when Lady Gaga, fighting back tears of her own, said, “When we do Q&As for this film, sometimes you call me Gaga. But we both know that you call me Stefani. [Her real name is Stefani Germanotta] I ran from Stefani for a long time, and I put on a superhero cape and called myself Lady Gaga. And you challenged me to deep dive into a place where I had to be Stefani again.”
Sam Elliott, who plays Cooper’s brother in “A Star Is Born,” summed it up near the end of the evening: “Its clear that everyone in this room is in love with you, my friend, and for all the right reasons.”
And then Penn came out, talked about what a moving night it had been and quickly punctured the mood. “Full disclosure,” he said. “I don’t like handsome or young men.”
But he makes an exception for Cooper — so after a modest diatribe about how he’s bored by “movies [about] men and women who wear their underwear on the outside of their tights,” he began lavishing praise on “A Star Is Born.” The film “shows that human stories of scale can still be told by artists of such amazing honesty,” he said.
“I told you before,” he added, “I don’t know how you did it, but we’re all just so grateful that you did, you handsome motherf—er.”
Cooper, for his part, seemed at a loss for words by the time he got to the stage. He mentioned that the room had seemed cavernous when he first went there for the Golden Globes while he was on “Alias,” but now it seemed far more intimate. And he thanked Michael Mann, who was in the crowd, for writing him a thank-you note after an audition early in his career.
“Michael f—ing Mann wrote me a note thanking me for auditioning after I didn’t get the job,” he said, still incredulous.
“Tonight,” he said to the room before walking off stage, “you have given me so much inspiration.”